COVENTRY — At the Anthony Village Green, a memorial pays homage to more than 200 Coventry residents who served in World War I. The park offers a peaceful place to reflect on their sacrifices, but a recent rash of vandalism at the site has local veterans pleading with whoever is responsible to stop.
“They gave us the right to freedom,” VFW Post 9404 Commander Peter Wisnieski said of the veterans for whom the park is dedicated.
Joined by Donald Babiec of American Legion SPRM Post 81, Wisnieski sat Saturday on a bench near a row of tall trees where American flag-adorned markers usually stand. There were no markers there now, aside from a few posted beside the trees closest to the street. Those that had been situated at the back of the park were all found broken last week.
“Somebody out there just doesn’t get it,” he continued. “It’s disrespectful — I just have a hard time with people that would do something like this.”
The park on the village green was first dedicated in the 1920s and was restored nearly a decade ago. Two-hundred-seventeen Coventry residents served in World War I, and for close to a century markers by many of the park’s trees have stood in their honor.
The site was also a target of vandalism around the 1960s, Babiec said. The markers, then made of brass, would occasionally disappear, to be found later in the river or elsewhere.
The markers were all replaced during a 2017 ceremony commemorating 100 years since the United States entered into World War I.
“Everything was going fine until last December,” Babiec said.
It was in December that Babiec first found markers bent over, several of the thermoplastic plaques snapped in half. He installed new markers, only to find the replacements broken a few months later. Since March, he’s had to replace them more and more frequently.
“He puts them back, I’ll check later, and nine times out of 10 they’re [broken],” Wisnieski said. "And it's just the rear portion."
Babiec and Wisnieski agree that the act is clearly deliberate.
Each marker is planted with a steel fence post that’s buried more than four feet underground. In some cases, the posts have been bent, their flags strewn on the ground nearby, their plaques broken in two. Other times, the posts have been yanked from the ground completely, or the flags have been tossed into a nearby trash can.
“It’s just disturbing — I mean, why?” Wisnieski said. “I know there’s a lot of frustration right now, but don’t take it out on veterans.”
It’s not only the World War I memorial that’s been the target of vandalism, either. Babiec was driving by the World War II monument at the former police station Friday when he noticed that the flagpole was empty, the flag having been taken from its halyard.
Nobody Babiec has spoken to about the issue has seen anything, he said. His hope is that by bringing awareness to the ongoing vandalism, people in the area will keep an eye out and notify the Coventry Police Department if they see anything suspicious.
For Wisnieski, whether the culprits are caught or not isn’t the greatest concern — he just wants the destruction to stop, and for people to understand the reason the memorial exists, in the first place.
“It’s not about retribution,” he said. “It’s about trying to understand why this [memorial] is here, and why you shouldn’t be swiping the flags.”